Men's Basketball

John Gillon’s family saves mother, 3 children from rising floodwaters due to Hurricane Harvey, helps them reunite with father

Jeff Anderson | Contributing Photographer

John Gillon, who played his graduate year at SU and hit a buzzer-beater to beat Duke, helped his mother save a family from rising waters in Houston.

It began to rain again when Phyllis Gillon peered to her left, two blocks down the road in the Bellaire neighborhood of Houston. She spotted a canoe floating in the water. Intrigued, she turned down the street and met eyes with a first responder in a boat.

“Can you help us?” the first responder asked.

Phyllis and her son, former SU men’s basketball guard John Gillon, could. As the floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey continued to rise on Sunday, Aug. 27, responders helped a mother, her 20-month-old twins and 5-year-old son out of their second-story window. The mother and responder handed the children to Phyllis and John.

“What do I do now?” Phyllis said. “Now what happens?”

“Take them to safety,” the responders said.

Phyllis remembered the children were shaking and crying, because there seemed to be little hope. Their Lexus SUV was completely underwater. They had only a suitcase the size of a backpack. The first floor of their home was submerged. Their father waited behind because the boats could rescue only women and children.

The family climbed out of their flooded home without food, diapers, clothes, a plan or their dad.

Because the rescue boat had reached its capacity, Phyllis said, she and John trudged the family to their SUV. Phyllis drove them to their home down the road. She tossed their clothes in the dryer while John played video games with the kids. They tried to contact their father, but could not reach him. His cell phone was dead.

The Gillons outfitted the children in Syracuse basketball T-shirts. The 5-year-old, whom the Gillons did not know the name of, said he recognized Gillon from watching college basketball on TV and from Gillon’s basketball posters on the wall.

“It broke the ice,” Phyllis said. “It made the mother more comfortable.”

Later that evening, the Gillons tried to drive the family 15 minutes away to the Houston Convention Center.
“I couldn’t get a mile down the street,” Phyllis said.

They returned, concerned that their house would flood like thousands of others in the area. The family still had yet to get in contact with their father.

The Gillons heated up frozen pizza in the oven, cooked a hot dog and poured glasses of milk. That night, Gillon offered up his room. Gillon slept on the couch in the living room.

The next day, at 9 a.m., a shallow-water boat picked up the family. They left, Phyllis said, without the Gillons ever learning their names.

Later that day, Phyllis received a call that the family reunited with their father at the Houston Convention Center. They are staying there until further notice, until the floodwaters recede from the storm, which killed dozens of people this week and displaced tens of thousands from their homes.

“It’s about reuniting a family and making them feel comfortable,” Phyllis said. “It wasn’t a decision-making process. It was the right thing to do.”

“This is not about John Gillon, nor his mother, nor his brother,” Phyllis added. “The things other people did, putting themselves in harm’s way, it leaves one speechless. Because we were facing catastrophe.”

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